Were Muscogee County schools inspected for fire safety?

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 16, 2013 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services records is aimed partly at determining whether workers falsified reports of school fire safety inspections.

An affidavit backing the search warrant served Tuesday at fire department headquarters says fire investigator Lance Miller told the GBI Jan. 15 he'd discovered schools hadn't been inspected in years and some had fire code violations that remained undocumented, yet inspection reports clearing those schools were on file.

Some Muscogee County school administrators "advised that no one from the fire department had been to the schools for the fire inspections in several years," reads the sworn statement from a GBI agent Miller talked to.

"These false reports created the perception that the risk of injuries to students and staff in a fire emergency had been minimized through the inspection process when in reality significant risks were present," it says.

Violations included expired fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems bearing no inspection tags, it read.

Fire department administrators have declined to comment on the investigation until it's concluded. GBI Special Agent in Charge Wayne Smith said the probe requested by District Attorney Julia Slater is not expected to drag on. The agency interviewed a dozen workers and seized two boxes of documents Tuesday, he said.

On Friday, Muscogee County School District communications director Valerie Fuller said the district also checks its fire safety equipment.

"We have no knowledge of any false reports or claims that may have occurred in the fire department," Fuller wrote in an email. "Plant Services and Property and Risk Management coordinates on all fire department inspections.

Plant Services maintains a file/folder of inspections for each school and a record of corrective action taken."

The district has contractors inspect some of the equipment, she added: "Plant Services has a contract for fire extinguishers where the vendor inspects the extinguisher and recharges them if necessary and tags them. Another contractor inspects the sprinkler system annually and corrects any faults detected and tags them. Monthly fire drills are also required by the state and those records are maintained and reported by the principals in the state digital system."

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